Inspiring Okeechobee: Diana Stark learned work ethic from her Dad

OKEECHOBEE – As the daughter of a man who made his living as a migrant worker, traveling the country year after year and only staying in each place for short periods of time, Diana Guadalupe Stark had a very different childhood than the majority of those raised in Okeechobee, but she said she wouldn’t have traded it for the world. As a child, Diana attended four or five different schools every year but rather than look at it as a disadvantage, she saw it as a challenge to work harder so she could succeed. Her parents spoke only Spanish, and Spanish was Diana’s first language which made doing her schoolwork difficult unless she had assistance. While very young, Diana found herself going with her mother to pay bills and to act as interpreter for her because even though English was not her first language, her mother could not speak it at all, and she needed Diana’s help.

Diana attended as many as five different schools each year as her family followed the harvests across the country. Her father was a crew leader, and the family, consisting of mom, dad, Diana and her four older brothers all traveled together. Before Diana came along, her mother helped in the fields too, but after Diana was born, the two of them stayed home most of the time to take care of things there. When she stopped working in the fields and even while she worked, her mother was a great homemaker, Diana explained. “When we’d come home after school, she would always have dinner ready, and if Daddy was working on Sundays she always made sure she took us to church and Sunday school.”

Diana believes she learned her work ethic from her father. “He taught me to set goals for myself,” she explained. He gave her a little beach bucket and gave her a quota when she did go out to help pick. “It made me the person I am today.” Diana remembers when she was in middle school, her dad had saved up enough money to start a business, L&L Trucking and Harvesting, and his handshake was worth everything to him. Once Diana said, someone asked Mayor Dowling Watford if he could believe Guadalupe Guitierrez, and Mayor Watford asked, “Did he shake your hand?” When the person replied that indeed, he had shaken his hand, Mayor Watford said, “then you can believe him.” Diana said she grew up knowing she wanted people to feel that sure about her word too. “Did she shake your hand?” “Then you can believe her.”

Diana Stark

As a 16-year-old girl, Diana began working for her father in the L&L Trucking & Harvesting Company where she assisted in the payroll department and was instrumental in helping many migrant families become employed. Her father also had her take care of seeking medical care for employees and their families when it was needed. Later she went to work for Park Drugs Pharmacy where she assisted as a pharmacy technician and was in charge of nursing home medications. This is where she began her career in the health field and later,she went on to become phlebotomist.

When an opening in the Migrant Department of the Okeechobee County school system working with the students of New Endeavor and Okeechobee High School became available, Diana applied for the position and was offered the job. She considered this job such a blessing as she was helping to make sure students were on track to graduate. She assisted with translating if needed and helped students transition when they arrived from other schools. She also assisted with applying for scholarships such as Bright Futures or local scholarships. Taking the Hispanic Key Club to Key West and Florida Atlantic University and South Florida Water Management to educate them on the science of the coral reef and to the old Kissimmee River restoration project another year were highlights of that position.

Presently, Diana works for Humana, Inc. as a sales representative but said she is really more of an educator because she spends her time educating and assisting those who are either 65 years old or older and on Medicare or those who are on Medicare disability with their insurance needs, which she said can be very confusing. She also visits the local senior center monthly, donating a birthday cake to celebrate that month’s birthdays. She has been doing this since 2007. She has been selected as the top ranked agent in the region and awarded the President’s Club award for the last seven years running.

Diana and her husband Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Brad Stark have been members of the Church of Our Savior for 26 years. She taught Sunday school for 12 of those years. Later she became the youth leader where she led them in many community service projects such as cleaning yards, wrapping Christmas presents, making home visits to the sick and even some door to door Christmas caroling. They went on several retreats to North Carolina—attending the Great Youth Celebration, Youth Quake, Rock the Universe and Night of Joy. “I have always felt that our youth is our future and we must do our part to make a positive impact,” said Diana. Diana served as a member of the Vestry Board for two years as well. Diana spent several years coaching baseball for OCRA and even spent some time coaching high school cheer leading. She is a current member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Cypress Hut 4509, the Eagle Riders, Buckhead Ridge Moose and VFW.

Diana and Brad have been married for 33 years and have two adult children Bradley, 29, who is newly engaged to Central Elementary School teacher Karli Rowell is the senior project manager for Green Design and Andrea,24, who is married to OCSO Deputy Tyler Ott works at Pritchard and Associates. Lt. Stark has plans to retire this year after 32 with the OCSO, and they plan to take time to travel. One of their favorite hobbies is motorcycle riding, and everywhere they go they rent one so they can explore God’s country. “Everything looks and smells better when you aren’t in a vehicle,” said Diana.

“I feel honored that I have been able to assist so many children and seniors of all races in our community over my lifetime,” said Diana.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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